Flying high: Panthers’ big shot at Immortality
Penrith's seemingly unstoppable season is poised to have it in Immortal company.
In 1959, a St George Dragons side boasting three future Immortals in Johnny Raper, Norm Provan and Reg Gasnier, went through the season undefeated, with one draw the only blight on an 18-game season.
The Panthers currently sit atop the NRL table with 13 wins, a draw and just one loss.
And with games against Wests Tigers (home), Brisbane (away), Parramatta (home), North Queensland and Canterbury (both away), Penrith is $2.60 with the TAB to win its remaining matches and earn a place in the record books just behind the Dragons.
It will be some feat, given that would make them the first side since the Dragons 61 years to enter the finals with fewer than two losses. And that 1959 outfit was arguably the best of the Red V's 11 consecutive premiership sides as they completed the last unbeaten season in first grade history.
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Unheralded at the start of the year, Penrith has stormed into outright premiership favouritism for the first time since 2004.
"It's hard sometimes, you get ahead of yourself," Panthers backrower Liam Martin said. "But a lot of the coaching staff bring us back to earth, we might play well but there's always things to improve on.
"There's still improvement in us. We're building on something, and aiming for something bigger, so we're trying to not get complacent."
Even if the Panthers drop a game between now and then, they'll join some historically dominant regular season teams.
The 1975 Roosters, led by another Immortal in Arthur Beetson, and the 1995 Manly and Canberra outfits are the only teams to go through a regular season with two losses since grand finals became mandatory in 1955.
Given the upheaval the coronavirus pandemic has inflicted on the season it's a remarkable feat of consistency by the Panthers.
If they can finish it off, they'll join the above five teams as the only sides of the grand final era to win 90 per cent or more of their regular season games.
"All the boys drive it, there's a lot of boys with a lot of experience," Martin said. "They lead the way, telling us they've seen this same thing happen and to stay hungry.
"Blokes like Jimmy Tamou, he's won a premiership and he's been around for many years.
"He's a great role model for us young boys, we've just got to keep building on what we've built so far and it doesn't matter what you've done the week before, you just have to put it behind you and go out and play your best footy."
Of course, the Panthers would happily lose their shot at history if it helped them towards a premiership, and their regular-season domination is no guarantee of glory on grand final day.
Beetson's team of 1975 stormed to a then-record 38-0 grand final smashing of the Dragons, but only after losing the major-semi final 8-5 to the same club two weeks before.
Those Raiders and Manly teams of 1995 who flew into the finals with a similarly historic dominance?
Neither of them won it all - the Raiders didn't even make the decider, while Manly lost the big one to a Canterbury team who clawed their way up from sixth.
The last team to only lose one match in the regular season, the 1954 Newtown Jets, couldn't do it either and lost the grand final to South Sydney.
It's only natural for the young Panthers to start dreaming big given what they've achieved this year, but Martin said the team will refuse to rest on their laurels.
"It's hard sometimes, you get ahead of yourself," Martin said.
"But a lot of the coaching staff bring us back to earth, we might play well but there's always things to improve on.
"You don't brush it aside just because you got the win. There's still improvement in us.
"We're building on something, and aiming for something bigger, so we're trying to not get complacent."
Five more wins would take Penrith's current streak to 16, equalling the third-longest run of victories in first grade history.
If they don't lose a match between now and the end of the season, including the grand final, they'll match the all time record of 19 - which is also held by the 1975 Roosters.
Suffocating early defence has been the key to the club's rise - they've gone 14 games in a row without conceding a point in the first 20 minutes.
"It's the mentality we've had all pre-season, and all season," Martin said.
"To use a boxing analogy - throw the first punch, start fast, go out hard and set the platform early and build off that. I think we've been doing that well, and now the piece of the puzzle is to get it right at the end of halves."
Season - Team - P W D L
1959 St George - 18 17 1 0
1975 Sydney Roosters - 22 20 0 2
1995 Canberra - 22 20 0 2
1995 Manly - 22 20 0 2
1958 St George - 18 16 0 2
2007 Melbourne - 24 21 0 3
2020 Penrith - 15 13 1 1
1974 Sydney Roosters - 22 19 0 3
1971 Manly - 22 19 0 3
1977 Parramatta - 22 19 0 3
Originally published as Flying high: Panthers' big shot at Immortality